Young Black & Gifted: Promising artist calls for end to mental health stigma

A talented young Sheffield artist who suffered such severe panic attacks she would pass out wants more people to open up about their mental health.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 19th July 2018, 8:28 am
Updated Thursday, 19th July 2018, 8:37 am
Soha Mohamad
Soha Mohamad

Soha Mohamad has just finished the first year of a fine art degree at Sheffield Hallam University, but the 19-year-old from Firth Park struggled so much with the stresses of secondary school life she nearly gave up on her education.

"I was going through bullying, anxiety and depression, and I had such bad panic attacks at school I would pass out," she says.

This piece is influenced by her Sudanese background (pic: Soha Mohamad)

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She is particularly keen to see an end to the stigma she says continues to surround mental health within the black community, preventing people from speaking out and seeking the help they need.

"There's this really harmful attitude that you shouldn't talk about your mental health problems and show you're going through the same difficulties as other people," she says.

One of Soha's artworks, composed of newspaper clippings about criminal injustice (pic: Soha Mohamad)

One of Soha's biggest inspirations is the acclaimed US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who sadly died of a heroin overdose aged just 27.

"He didn't care if people knew about his mental health problems and saw him as this angry black man," she says.

As the daughter of Sudanese and Ethiopian parents, and having grown up in Holland before moving to the UK aged five, it is no surprise Soha tussles with themes of race and identity in her own artwork.

This artwork shows Soha's attempt to depict her mental health using different poses and red ink (pic: Soha Mohamad)

She believes the art world remains too dominated by European styles and conventions - an orthodoxy she hopes to challenge.

"Most art is very Eurocentric. It's judged by European standards of what art should be, so you see less black art or other traditional art," says Soha, who recently completed a major piece focusing on criminal injustice around the world.

She is sadly no stranger to racism, having witnessed BNP supporters marching through her neighbourhood when she was a girl and frequently being told 'if you don't like it here, go back to your own country' when she dares to suggest things could be better in the UK.

Even hearing her name misspelled or mangled by western tongues can be hurtful she says, especially to a schoolchild dreading their name coming up when the register is read out, as it shows a lack of effort and consideration.

"We've had to assimilate and learn how to say all these words which are weird to our tongues but some people don't bother when it comes to our names," she says.

"My name only has four letters but it's amazing how often people get it wrong. If you're not sure it's OK to ask, because people do appreciate you making the effort to get it right."

While she is too modest to consider herself a potential winner, she hopes the ADIRA Young Black & Gifted Awards will help challenge unfair portrayals of black people and shine a light on the often unheralded good they are doing.

"It will mean so much to people to know their efforts haven't been forgotten and also to see others like them getting recognised for what they've done," she says.

"Hopefully where I am now will show people you should never give up. It's been worth the tears, sweat and all those late nights staying up studying."

* Nominations for the ADIRA Young Black & Gifted Awards are now open, and the deadline for entries is August 2.

You can pick up a nomination form from the locations listed below, or contact Ursula Myrie for more information by emailing [email protected] or calling 07761925938.

* Young Healthwatch Sheffield, The Circle, 33 Rockingham Lane, Sheffield S1 4FW

* Sheffield Mind, 110 Sharrow Lane, Sheffield S11 8AL

* Alicia Nang Hair and Beauty, 28 Snig Hill, Sheffield S3 8NB

* Jiggas Flavourlicious, 210-212 Cricket Inn Road, Sheffield S2 5AT

* Ma Ma Afro Ltd, 93 Firth Park Road, Sheffield S5 6WT

* Jerk Hut, 35 High Street, Sheffield S1 2GA